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Friday, August 3, 2012

Pedo-biometrics: using feet for disease detection, forensics, security and more

The future of biometric technology seems quite bright, especially for those who would love to monitor vast swaths of the population with considerable ease.
With iris scanning, centralized databases, groundbreaking drone technology including unbelievable camera technology, mind-bendingly fast facial recognition, three dimensional facial recognition modeling, remote biometrics, behavioral recognition, and threat assessments, there is little room for privacy these days.
Until recently, one might have claimed that the human mind was one of those last bastions of privacy, but that will be shattered as well thanks to mind-reading helmets.
One might have thought that feet would have been safe as well but that clearly is not the case any longer either.
A new discipline has emerged called pedo-biometrics and with it, even more privacy considerations will undoubtedly be cast aside in the name of progress.
One of the major centers of this research is Carnegie Mellon University, where researchers are working in a new Pedo-Biometrics Research and Identity Automation Lab – which costs a whopping $1.5 million in funds per year – along with a company called Autonomous ID.
Autonomous ID is currently moving their operations from Ottawa, Canada to the United States in order to conduct testing on prototypes for their insole sensory systems.
This system, when ready, can be used in a wide variety of applications ranging from the diagnosis of certain diseases as serious as Parkinson’s to security and identification.
The lab at Carnegie Mellon University is led by Professor Marios Savvides, an individual with some quite significant hopes for the future of this discipline.
Savvides is attempting to create a kind of blueprint for research and development of algorithms and scientific analysis for the pedo-biometrics field.
Of course, the first step (no pun intended) is actually getting the proprietary insole created.
According to a Carnegie Mellon University press release, the chief science and technology officer of Autonomous ID, Vladimir Polotski, will work alongside Savvides and Vijayakumar Bhagavatula (also of Carnegie Mellon University’s Electrical and Computer Engineering office) in order to “provide researchers with the instructional technology intrinsic to the emerging science of pedo-biometrics.”
“This new collaboration is a wonderful way to showcase our ongoing work in the emerging field of biometrics and our growing commitment to integrate innovative lab work with the needs of industry. It also offers wonderful opportunities for fundamental research in pedo-biometrics with potential applications in medical diagnosis, forensic science, privacy, security and automation,” explained Bhagavatula.
“The establishment of the Pedo-Biometrics Lab at CMU recognizes our technological achievements and we look forward to exploring the new frontier at the university,” said Polotski, showing that there is commercial interest in the field already.
Todd Gray, the chairman and president of Autonomous ID, highlighted the fact that “this new CMU lab gives his company the needed research and development boost to field trial the primary identity apparatus dubbed BioSole and its cloud connected automation suite governing the access and use of controlled resources.”
Interestingly, it sounds quite like Gray is saying that the Carnegie Mellon University lab is essentially doing the work for Autonomous ID.
Gray sees pedo-biometrics as a radical new innovation in the field of biometrics, so much so that he seems to think it will alleviate various nebulous threats to military personnel and critical infrastructure.
Furthermore, he apparently believes that it will somehow help supposed national cybersecurity vulnerabilities.
If it works anything like they claim it will, it could indeed be a pretty significant leap forward as it would seemingly be much more difficult to spoof.
“The continuing threats to military personnel and critical infrastructure and the growing national cyber security vulnerabilities demand a new breed of credentialing technology, and what our group has achieved certainly puts a whole new spin on things,” Gray said.
The obvious problem is that it is completely unproven and represents another massive potential money drain on the American government. Seeing as our government likes to spend money like we actually have it, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to see them jump on something like this.
There are also the significant privacy concerns which are inherent in any major new biometrics technology, especially one as unusual as pedo-biometrics.
“Any biometric capture device is a potential tracking device, just like every iPhone is a potential tracking device. That’s just the way these things are,” said Lee Tien, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to Fox News.
However, Tien did say that the BioSoles themselves “might make a person feel a little bit better” than the other security systems do and that the claim that the system would be able to identify a person within just three steps is “pretty impressive.”
Indeed such a claim is quite impressive but thankfully Tien did not leave us there, adding that if this project is actually successful, BioSoles could actually be put in shoes without the owner’s knowledge or permission.
“I wouldn’t expect Nike to build these in. But it’s potentially covert,” Tien rightly pointed out, highlighting the potential applications to the ever-growing spy trade.
Unsurprisingly, Gray brushes aside privacy concerns, claiming that it is less of an invasion of privacy than iris scans or other biometric systems, partly because the data remains inside the BioSoles.
I find his claims unconvincing not only because he is the chairman and president of one of the companies on the bleeding edge of the field but also because the soles have wireless communication functionality.
However, as per usual, there is a seemingly positive selling point for the technology, namely, disease detection.
At the recent Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in Vancouver, for example, there were papers presented which indicate that changes in how elderly people walk can act as early warnings of dementia.
The study of gait has grown considerably and is not just restricted to pedo-biometrics.
Indeed, according to Fox News even the United States Department of Defense has spent millions on research projects in the field and the Chinese Institute of Intelligent Machines is also supposedly researching gait biometrics.
The most disturbing of all is that reportedly the Chinese have developed or are researching systems where a floor actually has hidden sensors monitoring footsteps (and likely identifying individuals) without their knowledge.
All in all, I think we can safely say that there is yet another little shred of privacy lost to the powerful influence of the surveillance state.

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